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12 Subtle Signs of Child Abuse That Are Easy to Miss

Look beyond just physical bruises. Changed behavior, aggressive role play, lack of boundaries... these are all red flags.

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Low self-esteem

Victims of abuse may think that what has happened is their fault. They feel unworthy of love or help. "Abusers will often tell a child that the abuse is their fault, that they were the one who wanted it, or that their parents will be angry if they tell," says Dr. Jeglic. "The abuser does this as part of the grooming process to avoid detection. However, it causes the child to feel that he's responsible. He feels like he's done something bad and he's ashamed." Only through working with other victims many years later as an adult, was this woman who survived child sexual abuse finally able to regain self-esteem and find peace.

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Delayed development

"Children who've been abused may not meet their milestones in a typical way," says Dr. Pearlman. "Their development may be halted." She says, for example, children deprived of food by their abuser can have chronic malnutrition that may lead to growth delays or failure to thrive. Their social development or academic achievement may be halted, she adds.

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Often feeling ill

Some children will have physical symptoms as a result of abuse, says Dr. Jeglic. "You may see increased stomachaches, headaches, and generally not feeling well." The symptoms may result from difficulty eating or sleeping, which can lead to aches and pains. When you see an increase in symptoms like these, that can be a red flag. The abuse may not always be coming from an adult. Even peer to peer teasing that's intended to be playful can cross the line and become hurtful. Watch for subtle signs that your child may be being bullied.

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